A woman who has been suffering chronic pain for more than a year has been told she'll need to wait until next month for a test that could be done within a couple of days - if she pays $7500 through a private specialist.
Teresa Peters has been in and out of hospital at least seven times since first experiencing "excruciating" pain in her lower abdomen last October.
She now needs an endoscopy test to find out if she has chronic pancreatitis, a risk factor for cancer, but says Waikato District Health Board keeps delaying the scan.
The frustrated 31-year-old has now written to Health Minister David Clark saying she had been let down by a public health system and has been left to suffer in pain because she can't afford to pay for a private specialist. She is also worried if her pain is being caused by chronic pancreatitis and not diagnosed early it could lead to cancer.
"I could die and they are making me wait."
Clark's office acknowledged her letter last Thursday saying: "I am very sorry to read of your situation, this must be very distressing."
He promised he would look into her case.
As of last night she had yet to hear back from him.
Clark told the Herald a response was being dealt with "urgently" but due to the high volume of correspondence it was unlikely she would hear from him until late this month.
Peters' battle comes after New Zealand was revealed to have the second-worst survival rate for pancreatic cancer compared to six other developed countries with similar health systems.
Two months ago the Government made a promise to prioritise improving cancer care and putting a stop to postcode lottery with the release of its five year plan. That included a strong focus on early detection.
While there is nothing to suggest she has cancer, chronic pancreatitis is a known risk factor of the deadly disease.
The Te Awamutu mother-of-five was at work making coffee when the pain first began. She went to her GP but was taken straight to Waikato Hospital in an ambulance where she was diagnosed with acute pancreatitis, an inflammation causing abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting.
As the condition can go away without any intervention, she was sent home with pain relief and told to contact her GP if symptoms persisted.
The pain did continue and she has been in and out of hospital ever since, with doctors saying there is little they can do to help other than dosing her up on pain relief such as oxycodone.
In July, Peters had a CT scan, ultrasound and MRI. Her medical records show a 1.9cm cyst was found and concern was raised it could be biliary stricture, which affects the digestive system, or chronic pancreatitis.
She was told an endoscopy should be considered if there were ongoing problems.
Her pain did become more frequent in the following months but Peters said she still wasn't able to be seen by a gastroenterology specialist.
"Every time I came into hospital they have said they would try to do the scan but then the specialist kept putting it off," Peters said.
Frustrated that nothing was being done, she paid $300 to see a private specialist in Auckland.
The specialist sent a letter to Waikato DHB, dated September 6, saying he suspected she had chronic pancreatitis and recommended she get a Endoscopy ultrasound.
The DHB agreed to do the procedure but said she would need to go on the waiting list because there was only one specialist who could do it.
Peters said the specialist also had his own private clinic and contacted her saying that if she paid $7500 the scan could be done the next day.
"Yet, the booking clerk from the hospital said they couldn't bring me forward as the specialist told them my blood test were normal so I could wait."
Waikato DHB said they would not discuss the case with the media due to patient privacy reasons, despite the Herald providing them with a privacy waiver signed by Peters.
The specialist confirmed his clinic had offered her an appointment and she declined saying she wanted to be seen in the public system.
Peters said she declined because she couldn't afford to pay $7500.
The young mum, who is no longer able to work due to the debilitating pain, and her family are now struggling financially.
"It's got so bad my partner's had to stop working to take care of me and look after the kids."
Her partner was managing a farm and the house they were living in was a package deal, so they were forced to move after he resigned and are now living off benefits.
"Our finances have taken a huge hit, last week my partner had to go down to the foodbank to ask for food."
The emotional toll it has taken on her family has also been difficult.
"My kids don't even want to hug me anymore because I'm in so much pain. It's putting a distance between us which is hard."
She wants a endoscopy so she can get a proper diagnosis and rule out her fear of cancer – and hopefully get a treatment plan under way.
"I just want action. [The DHB] know they can do something but they just keep putting it off."